RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan


Title: Shadowdance
Author: Kristen Callihan
Publication Info: Forever December 2013
ISBN: 978-1455520817
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book Shadowdance This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by DonnaMarie. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:

Once a heart is lost in shadow…

Life has been anything but kind to Mary Chase. But the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals has given her purpose. Now she's been tasked with catching a vicious murderer dubbed the Bishop of Charing Cross. But someone is already on the case—and the last thing he relishes is a partner.

Only someone who lives in darkness can find it.

Jack Talent has been alone with his demons for many years. He never expected to have the willful Mary Chase assist him on the Bishop case. Their age-old rivalry reaches new heights—even as their desire for one another reaches a fever pitch. Though he aches to bring her close, Jack's dark secrets are a chasm between them. With dangerous enemies closing in, Jack must find the strength to face the past…or risk losing Mary forever.

And here is DonnaMarie's review:

In the latest installment of The Darkest London series by Kristen Callihan we are treated to the love story of everyone's favorite sequel bait, shifter Jack Talent and his favorite antagonist GIM Mary Chase. Everyone who is familiar with the series has witnessed Jack's antipathy for Mary. Now we get the story of why he's such an utter bastard around her, and how two very wounded souls fall in love.

First things first, because all of you who haven't been reading the series are going to ask, yes, you can read this without having read the previous books. But why would you do that? Why? Are you being punished? Has an evil djinn put a curse on your Amazon account? Does your librarian hate you? Are you in…

Sorry. You should be reading this series. Kristen Callihan truly has a way with words and relationships. However, if you want to be stubborn about it, there are concise recaps of the origin stories of the various paranormals like GIMs and demons and the opposing philosophies of the S.O.S and the Nex. Previous characters appear, but the relationships are easy to follow.

A little history though:  We first met Jack as Ian Ranaulf's valet and surrogate son.  He was prissy, temperamental and utterly loyal to Ian and by association, Daisy. The boy had his arm torn off defending her, so how can you not forgive a little surliness? Having reached his maturity, Ian kicked him out of the nest, and he joined the S.O.S. (that acronym is really the only lame thing about this series) or Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals – which should make it the S.S.S, don't get me started. When last we saw him, Jack was recovering from horrific torture at the hands of Nex demons. I don't know about the rest of you, but Jack sobbing his heart out in Ian's arms was the most heart wrenching scene in Winterblaze.

Despite their antagonism, it was Mary who realized that there was an imposter in Jack's place (he was being nice to her), and it was Mary who tracked his soul to rescue him. Mary, a GIM (read the book) has also left the safety of her home with Lucien Stone to become an S.O.S. agent (really I kind of snort every time I type that) working as Poppy Lane's assistant.

Life is not a long, straight road, but a series of turns. Moments defined it. A hard choice, a chance meeting, a bit of bad luck, and everything changed; a new life began.


The first line of the book tells you everything about Jack and Mary. But for happenstance or circumstance, the right truth spoken here, a little courage there and this would have been the easiest love story ever written. The book opens with a scene in the time line of the first book, Firelight. It appears to be their first meeting. It's sweet and full of simmering attraction until Lucien Stone, leader of the GIM (also a bit of an ass), puts on the appearance of being Mary's lover, and Jack suddenly realizes why Mary's scent is so familiar. He's encountered her before, and he is desperate to keep the circumstances secret thereby setting himself up for a little blackmail from Lucien. And we all know the best way to keep your distance is to be an utter bastard to a lady who has done nothing to deserve it. If you like your h/H to be constantly at odds, here's your book.

Fast forward four years. Jack has become a withdrawn surl(ier) and, worst of all, unkempt young man. As an S.O.S. Regulator, he's been working a serial murder case for about a year. Someone's killing demons, marking them with a cross and leaving them under Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. Jack isn't making much progress for an obvious reason. I'm sure you're astute enough to figure that out. Mary Chase has left her job as Mother's assistant and become a Regulator herself. She's come across some damning information and asks to be assigned to Jack's case in order to either exonerate or expose him. Let the games begin.

Now's where it gets hard for me. How to explain why this book was so good for me. I don't want to rehash the whole book; you need to experience it for yourself. My second read through I pasted half a pad of post-its marking quotes, themes and ideas, but I realized that I can't put in too much detail because there are so many twists to this story with the love story and Jack's secrets so closely intertwined with the murders that telling too much might lead to spoilers, and this not a book I want to spoil for anyone. So, why I loved this book sans detail:

1. Jack, Jack, Jack.

Now there is where you are wrong. You would do well not to trust me, Chase. Whatever deeds I have or have not done, the essential truth remains that I am broken.

I admit it, I'm an old skool girl. I like my heroes angsty and tortured. Jack's had a lot of torture and betrayal in his life. I like when they snarl and sneer. Jack excels at snarling and sneering and growling. Growling, yum.

Here's the thing, though, Jack hasn't lost his capacity to feel emotions other than anger or hate. His loyalty to Ian and, by extension, the Ellis sisters and their families is boundless. He admittedly excels at keeping the people he cares about at arms length, not because he has no regard for their affection, but because he doesn't believe himself worthy of it. However, he doesn't despise or denigrate finer emotions. At one point he has a fine little grouse about how the feels, they will not be denied. His whole demeanor towards Mary is based on the belief that if she only knew the wrong he done her, there would be no forgiving him. Better she despise him all along. On the other hand he just can't seem to twist the knife when he has the chance. Case in point: when it becomes apparent that Mary cannot stomach dead bodies he doesn't tell her to buck up or get out. He chastises her for being apologetic about it.

So you have an aversion to dead bodies? Why shouldn't you? They are foul. Murder is a foul business. If any one of us were in our right minds, we'd be as far away from all this as possible.


Much of Jack's inner voice as the story progresses is the realization of self-worth and taking those final steps into maturity.

2. Kristen Callihan does not know how to write missish heroine.

Mary Chase had an equally hard life until her death and rebirth as a GIM. I'm not going to go into the gory details, because, well, read the book! She was betrayed and abused just as badly as Jack, but without the blood sucking.  Mary has found her self-worth and her place in the world. She has her moments of feeling out of place, but she doesn't let it keep her from new experiences – e.g. Sunday roast.

She's no push over. She has no problem calling Jack on his shit and responding in kind when he's behaving at his worst. She's equally generous in offering comfort after Jack confronts his demons both literal and psychological.

    “They were your childhood,” she said. “But they aren't your family. You know who your real family is. One day you'll know how much you're loved. You'll feel it.'”

3. How the relationship evolves over the course of the book.

Yes, they don't get along, but they can't stop doing things like grooming each other or making sure the other has eaten. They are forced to dance together at a ball while guarding another shifter. They start out awkward and out of step and then gradually begin to move perfectly in time. Jack keeps revealing things that justifiably anger Mary, and just when you think he's achieved his goal of pushing her away entirely… another plot twist or truth revealed takes the relationship forward. In the end it's all about how they've come to love each other and trust in that love to see them through a very dark trial.

4. World building.

The Darkest London books have all had this wonderful atmosphere. The foggy London streets, murky undergrounds, sunny parlors, and sumptuous details of food and furniture and fabric. The creatures that inhabit it have sturdy foundations under them and so far Callihan, while not creating too many rules, has managed not to break any of them either.

5. Balance.

I've read a few too many books lately where a lot of action takes place off the page. Or books where the superfluous villain comes out of nowhere, adding no depth, no menace, no point in even including a villain/mystery because it has no impact on the h/H relationship. This would not be the same book without the murders or the villain. Amaro's goals and actions directly impact Jack and Mary. He moves the plot forward. He adds texture to the story. And he's a bad, bad creature.

6. The sexual tension.

I'm not a huge fan of the instalust and couples in bed by chapter three. I like a nice slow build up. How Callihan likes to wind her way up to the sex just makes it that much more emotional, believable, enthralling. We're half way through the book before Mary goes ghosting to spy on Jack and gets quite the eyeful. Yowza!  And then there's the first kiss. Remember, at the end of the The Princess Bride:

There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C. when Saul and Delilah Korn's inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks. Well, this one left them all behind.

― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Yeah, it's like that. And then some. And it's not until 2/3 of the way through the book.

Finally, the big moment comes, but here's the thing: Jack and Mary have both suffered horrific sexual assaults. Two people with that in their past don't just jump on each other and go at it. This is why I worship Kristen Callihan: They both have trigger moments. There's no glossing over their trepidation. Jack and Mary acknowledge the moments, neither tries to push the other forward. They address the triggers, they comfort, they adjust and the scene never loses it's pacing, it's emotion or it's heat. I am agog. And this:

They were twined together, Jack's thigh between her legs, her arms wrapped about his shoulder and around his waist, his arms doing the same. Though it did not feel sexual, not at that moment. If felt peaceful. And she could not help but think of them as two strings, wound up tight to become rope, and stronger for it.

Okay, I need to stop. I could go on for pages and pages about this. Drag out another dozen quotes, because really, the writing is phenomenal. Or talk about the scene where Jack goes to unburden himself to Ian… No! Spoilers. Just this:

    She snuggled in closer, letting him curse, letting him pet and kiss her. Because Jack Talent, in all his imperfect glory, made her perfectly happy.

And this book made me perfectly happy.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Carolyn says:

    Great review and I agree completely. All her books are wonderful.

    Also love Bec McMaster’s world. Both these ladies are autobuys for me.  :-)

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